Home » Guide to the Wise Use of Antibiotics » Sore Throat

Sore Throat

A sore throat often comes with a cold.  Most sore throats are caused by viruses.  An antibiotic will not help a sore throat caused by a virus.

Some sore throats are caused by Streptococcus  bacteria.  Strep throat most often occurs during the fall and winter, in children between the ages of 5 and 12.

Your doctor cannot tell if a sore throat is strep throat just by looking at it.  A throat swab will show whether the sore throat is caused by bacteria or a virus.

  • If the sore throat is part of a cold, it is most likely caused by a virus and a throat swab is not needed.
  • Your doctor might take a throat swab to show whether the sore throat is caused by bacteria or a virus.  The test results are usually ready within 48 hours.
  • If the test results are negative, antibiotics will not work because the sore throat is likely caused by a virus.
  • If the test results are positive, your doctor might decide to prescribe an antibiotic.
  • Other family members do not need to be tested unless they are sick.

Symptoms:

  • Pain in the throat, pain when swallowing
  • Fever
  • Swollen glands in the neck

Treatment:

  • Drink plenty of fluids such as water or juice.  Warm clear fluids such as soup make the throat feel better.  Offer plenty of fluids to your child if your child has a sore throat.
  • For children six years of age and older and adults, plain (not antibacterial) throat lozenges may relieve symptoms.  Avoid antibacterial throat drops because they can lead to antibiotic resistance.  NOTE:  Younger children should not be given lozenges because of the danger of choking.
  • For older children and adults, gargling with warm salt water will make the throat feel better.  Mix ½ tsp table salt with 1 cup (250 ml) warm water.  Gargle for 10 seconds.  Spit out salt water and repeat.  May be done 4 – 5 times per day.
  • You or your child can go back to normal activity when feeling better.
  • For further information on Fever, please see More Fever Links.

When to seek medical attention:

Children:  See your doctor if. . .

  • Your child has a sore throat that continues for 2 – 3 days without any other symptoms of a cold such as a cough, watery eyes, sneezing or runny nose.
  • Your older child or teenager has a sore throat accompanied by pain or swelling in the neck.

Adults:  Adults should consult their doctor, nurse practitioner or provincial health help line if symptoms worsen or are unusually severe.


When to Worry about your child

Go to the emergency department if your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • Cannot swallow, especially if your child is also drooling
  • Trouble breathing not caused by a stuffy nose
  • Blue lips